mesoamerica and the maya world

Category: culture Page 2 of 3

Yucatan color

A nice sample of Yucatecan color from saguayo’s photostream.

colorful dishes and bowls from the yucatan

Maria Felix

Maria Felix epitomizes the glamor of the classic Mexican cinema. Her fame is linked with that of the great Veracruz composer and pianist Agustin Lara. In this homage to Maria Felix by 2somos2 the music has the flavor of Agustin Lara, but it doesn’t sound like his voice singing.

Maya symbology: jaguar

jaguar motif at lamanai maya site, belize

According to joiseyshowaa, from whose photoset this image of an architectural element at the Maya site of Lamanai in western Belize is is taken, the decorative pattern represents a jaguar. The Maya admired the jaguar, whose habitat is tropical jungles, for his fearsome appearance and roar, and his stealth and prowess as a hunter and fisher.

In Mesoamerica jaguars were associated with shamans, who were thought to change into the beasts during rituals. Shamans and priest sometimes carried jaguar hides, wore jaguar clothing, or adorned themselves with necklaces made of jaguar teeth.

Jaguar gods were associated with night (or, paradoxically, the sun), caves, the underworld, and hunting. Belief in the terrifying were-jaguar — the product of a jaguar-human union — goes back to the Olmecs, but the cult of the jaguar reached its peak with the Maya — as is logical, since the Maya and the jaguar shared the same habitat.

Jaguars were sometimes sacrificed in rituals. At Copan, sixteen jaguars were sacrificed with the city state’s 16th ruler assumed the throne.


Maximon graphic

Here’s a nicely laid-out graphic about Maximon that appeared in La Prensa a few years ago. Click the image to view a larger version at Tim Hilliard’s website.

maximon graphic


The theft of Impressionist paintings in Switzerland has made news lately. In fact, it has caused the insurance on art exhibitions to go up for museums around the world (like the museum where I work).

But Mexico still holds the distinction for one of the most spectacular art heists. In 1985 thieves made off with 140 objects from the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. To my knowledge, this is the largest number of objects ever stolen from a museum.

The theft occurred on Christmas day. There were eight guards on duty, but they don’t seem to have been very vigilant. And the museum’s alarm system had been broken for the past three years.

The objects — Maya, Aztec, Zapotec, and Miztec ceramics mainly — were small, but extremely valuable. One of them alone (a monkey-shaped vase) was valued at $20 million.

I never heard whether any of the objects was recovered.


Scratchboard Maximon

This Maximon image was created on scratchboard by student artist Edwin Harris, Jr., of Georgia. On his blog he gives a little background on the process.

maximon figure

Guatemalan paintings from Arte Maya Tz’utuhil

 Recorriendo Camino al Mercado, painting by guatemalan maya artists mario gonzalez chavajay

Arte Maya Tz’utuhil is a one-man business of Joe Johnston, based in San Francisco. Its website is Johnson travels to Guatemala once or twice a year to acquire paintings — mainly from artists in the Lake Atitlan area — for representation for sale. The website offers a wide range of painting (and calendars), from relatively inexpensive pieces to more substantial works, such as this large oil painting.

Shown is Recorriendo Camino al Mercado (Traversing the Road to the Market) by Mario Gonzalez Chavajay, 2003, oil on canvas, 36 x 56 in.

Nim Po’t, textile and folk art cooperative, La Antigua, Guatemala

Nim Po’t is a kind of folk art cooperative or consignment market located near the Arco at 5a Avenida Norte #29 in La Antigua, Guatemala. The quality of their merchandise varies, but their website provides a useful service by relating textile styles to the pueblos where they are made (each Guatemala highland village has an identifiable textile design and iconography). It is possible to shop online via the website. Antigua may the most expensive place to buy Guatmalan crafts, but there is no need to obsess over prices, and your money will go a long way for the sellers.

Who knows what “nim po’t” means?

nim pot, guatemalan textile, crafts, antigua

Mayan glyphs as a truetype font set

This truetype typeface is a free download from It would be nice if the meaning of the glyphs was documented, but for the price who can complain?

free mayan truetype font


Rompope is a drink made with eggs, milk, and vanilla.It is often called “Mexican eggnog.” It can be eaten with a spoon like ice cream, although men mix it with rum or brandy. It is said to have originated at the Convent of Santa Clara in Puebla in Mexico.

Gourmet Sleuth offers this recipe (but there seem to be many variations):

4 cups milk
1 cup sugar
3 inches canela (cinnamon bark)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
12 egg yolks
1/2 cup brandy
In a medium sized saucepan over medium heat, mix together the milk, sugar, cinnamon bark and baking soda. When it begins to boil, lower the heat stand simmer for about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool, and strain to remove the cinnamon bark.

Place the egg yolks in a mixing bowl and whisk or beat with an electric mixer about 5 minutes. , until thick and lemon yellow. While still beating, slowly, pour the cool milk mixture into the yolks. Return to the saucepan and cook over low heat., stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and lightly coast the back of a wooden spoon.

Remove from the heat and stop the cooking by pouring the rompope into a bowl (preferably metal) that is resting on ice in a larger bowl. Stir until cool. Gradually stir in the brandy and it’s ready to serve, or it can be tightly covered in the refrigerator.

The Big Apple has more rompope information and recipes.

Wines of Baja

Baja’s Guadalupe Valley is an up-and-coming wine region. This January, in California’s Napa wine region, there will be a tasting of wines from the region. Vinography: A Wine Blog reports:

Most readers know that I have a strong interest in up-and-coming wine regions around the world. In particular I love exploring those that are in surprising and unknown areas. Baja Mexico clearly qualifies as the latter. I first learned of the area from a loyal Vinography reader, and then subsequently spoke with Eric Asimov after a trip he had taken a trip down there to explore for an article he was writing.

Since then I’ve had only a couple of wines from the Guadalupe Valley, which is the name of the region’s wine country, but they’ve been interesting enough to show that there’s some real potential there.

Following are the details:

Wines, Cuisine, and Art of Mexico
January 26th, 2008

11:00 AM – 12:00 PM Panel: “Is Guadalupe Valley the Napa Valley of the 1970s?”
12:00 PM – 3:00 PM Food and wine tasting
1:00 PM – Food Demo with Chef Javier Plascencia (Villa Saverios, Baja)
3:00 PM – Food Demo featuring another Baja chef TBA

COPIA Center
500 First Street
Napa, CA 94559

Admission $30

Another Andy Palacio video

Andy Palacio

I got a CD by Garifuna artist Andy Palacio for Christmas.

Guatemalan slingshots

the guatemalan slingshot

Slingshots are remarkably effective weapons for hunters. In Guatemala, slingshots embody centuries of tradition, often including Maya or Christian imagery. They are the subject of this book by Anabella S. Paiz and Valia Garzón, which is published by La Ruta Maya Conservation Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to preserving the cultural heritage of Central America.

I think slingshots can be purchased from the Curandero Gallery.
I couldn’t find the book at Powell’s but Amazon carries it.

Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan

incidents of travel in central america, chiapas, and yucatan by stephens and catherwood

This book, one of the classics of travel writing, is now available online via Google Book Search. It’s a funky scan, but at least it’s not an appalling abridged edition like one I saw published a few years ago.

The image is the original 1842 edition, from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Maximon masks


El Curandero Gallery, located in La Antigua, Guatemala, looks like a good source for Guatemalan masks, wooden figures, slingshots, ceramics, paintings, and textiles. Among their current listings are these two Maximon masks. The one on the left dates from the 1950s and the other from the 1940s.

Maximon is an auspicious folk deity best known from his cult at Santiago Atitlan. He apparently blends aspects of the Christian Saint Simon with a Mayan god, perhaps Maam, an underworld god. I photographed a Maximon altar in Antigua a few years ago, and posted information about Maximon on that page.

First Tortilla

the first tortilla by rudolfo analya

The First Tortilla, a children’s book by Rudolfo Anaya (University of New Mexico Press, 2007) has received the New Mexico Library Association and the New Mexico International Reading Association’s Land of Enchantment Book Award. The book is the story of a Mexican girl who saves her village by making the first tortilla with the help of the Mountain Spirit. Amy Cordova is the illustrator.

Museums in Merida

macay museum, merida, yucatan, mexico

Working Gringos has put together the best list of museums in Merida that I have seen. They include

  • Yucatan Museum of Popular Art (Museo de Arte Popular de Yucatan)
  • Galeria Merida
  • The Yucatan Music Museum (Museo de La Canción)
  • Olimpo
  • Governor’s Palace (Palacio del Govierno)
  • MACAY (Museo de Contemporaneo Ateneo de Yucatan)
  • Merida City Museum (Museo de La Ciudad)
  • City Museum of Merida Yucatan – Upstairs Gallery
  • Galería at the University Cultural Center (UADY)
  • Yucatan Painting Gallery (Pinocateca del Estado de Yucatan)
  • Jose Peon Contreras Gallery
  • Gallery in La’Kech
  • Art on the Street
  • Galería Manolo Rivero
  • Centro de Artes Visuales
  • La Quilla
  • La Luz Galeria
  • La Casa de los Artistas
  • El Dragón Sabio (The Wise Dragon)
  • Anthropology Museum
  • Casa Museo Montes Molina
  • Galeria Tataya
  • Georgia’s House
  • Casa Catherwood
  • Centro Cultural Ricardo Lopez Mendez
  • Habemus Gallery

I took the picture above at the MACAY in February.

From trash to cash

tres personajes, by rufino tamayo

While we’re on the subject of Rufino Tamayo paintings, I should mention, in case you haven’t heard, this story. It seems not everyone is a fan of brightly colored abstraction. At any rate, someone threw Tamayo’s 1970 painting Tres Personajes into the trash.

The painting had been stolen from its owner in 1987. Nothing was heard of it for years, until in 2003 it was found on a New York City curb. Eventually the work was sold at auction for more than $1 million.

$3 million Mexican painting removed from auction

el trovador, by mexican artist Rufino Tamayo

Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo’s Trovador (Troubador) has been removed from a Christie’s auction after fans of the painting filed a lawsuit challenging the work’s sale by Randolph College. The painting was to be the “crown jewel” of the Latin American-focused auction, in which twelve sales records were broken, as 65 items sold for 21.6 million dollars. Trovador was expected to fetch a price of as much as $3 million.


Cell phones in Cancun

cell phones in cancun That’s the title of this colorful painting by Namaste Nancy.

The painting’s effectiveness comes from its reduction of elements to just what is essential.

Read more at her site.

Dia de los Muertos: A New Beginning

dia de los muertos art exhibition

That’s the name of an exhibit that uns through December 16 at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, “the nation’s largest Latino arts institution and the only Latino museum accredited by the American Association of Museums.”

On blogs from Mexico and Guatemala this year there has appeared some discussion about whether Mesoamerica should observe Halloween or Dia de los Muertos — apparently Halloween is making some inroads south of the border. According to the Chicago exhibit,

Whereas Americans typically celebrate All Saints and All Souls Days with Halloween, treating dead spirits as frightful ghouls who adolescents emulate while knocking on doors and asking for candy, in Mexico and other parts of the world this time of year is treated as one of remembrance, when the lost souls of loved ones return to be with their friends and families before moving on to a better place. While it may seem like a potentially heavy-hearted occasion, it is mostly one of joy; instead of mourning loss, one looks back fondly at the time the departed had spent on earth, and wishes them off with the best of fortune for their new life—and new beginning—to come.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, the Oakland Museum traditionally does an excellent job of presenting art and programs for Dia de los Muertos.

Por que no te callas?

This song is going viral in many parts of the Spanish-speaking world.

How do you say “a sad situation” in Ayapan Zoque?

Apparently only two people know. But the last two speakers of this indigenous Mexican language refuse to talk to each other.

The two men in their 70s from the village of Ayapan, Tabasco, in southern Mexico, are the only remaining speakers of their local version of the Zoque language.

Fernando Nava, head of the Mexican Institute for Indigenous Languages told BBC News the two men have drifted apart. He said: “We know they are not to say enemies, but we know they are apart. We know they are two people with little in common.”

More here. Via La Casa Azteca.

Aged chocolate

If you like your chocolate vintage, talk to the archeaologists at Cornell, U Penn, and UC Berkeley. They have found residue of chocolate in a large number of vessels dating from 1400 to 1100 BCE — much earlier than previously confirmed.

It turns out the earliest chocolate was a kahlua-like beverage containing not just chocolate but alcohol as well. That’s two psychoactive ingredients right there. I wonder if they also added some ipomoea, magic mushrooms, salvia divinorum, or the like. I know they were deadly serious about their rituals. But let’s face it, they were also way flipped-out cats.

Fiambre, a classic Guatemalan dish

Fiambre is only served on the Day of the Dead (Día de los Difuntos)  and All Saints Day (Día de los Santos) — on November 1st or 2nd. It’s mainly made up of cold cuts, fish, and vegetables, but the key feature is the sheer number of ingredients — which can number to 50 or more. Luis Figueroa at Carpe Diem has made a post on this “delicada y balanceada combinación de talento, y de carnes y verduras cuidadosamente seleccionadas.” Each family has its own recipe but, according to Figueroa, these fall into four main categories, fiambre rosado, fiambre blanco, fiambre rojo, and fiambre verde.

Sea cual sea su órigen, el Fiambre es mi plato favorito en todo el universo-mundo. Y celebro con mucha alegría la dicha de poder prepararlo y consumirlo;…y mi plato me dura casi una semana.

For more on fiambre, check out the excellent slide show posted last year by Rudy at Antigua Daily Photo.

VIP behind bars

A new film from Guatemalan director Elías Jiménez Trachtenberg, VIP La Otra Casa, has just been released. According to Inner Diablog,” A government official called Juan Ramos is jailed for suspected corruption: an unusual enough premise in Guate. Apparently the rest of the film is about his struggle to get himself transfered to the VIP part of the prison and the plots hatched by his personal enemies that are geared towards ensuring that his stay behind bars is nasty, brutal and short.”

Unusual Guatemalan embroidery

guatemala embroidery representing constellations

Luis Figueroa, a columnist for Prensa Libre, maintains a blog called by the same name as his column, “Carpe Diem.” His most recent post included this image of an embroidery from Magdalena Milpas Altas (a municipality in the department of Sacatepéquez), Guatemala, ca. 1941. The textile is extremely unusual. Does it represent a particular constellation, and if so what is its significance?

The textile was exhibited at the Museo Ixchel de Traje Indigena, located on the campus of the Universidad Francisco Marroquín in zone 10 of the capital.

Inventory of a Dawn

Here’s a poem by the Guatemalan poet Luis de Lión, who was disappeared during the war. (Please tell me if I have mistranslated anything.)

Inventory of a dawn

another dog another rooster
dog dog dog dog
many roosters many dogs
all the dogs all the roosters
fewer dogs no roosters
two drops
three drops
several drops
many drops
all the drops
two hands
two breasts
two hands four hands
two lips four lips
four legs
less rain
even less rain
no rain at all
end of inventory

Inventario de un amanecer

un gallo
un borracho
un perro
otro perro otro gallo
otro otro otro otro perro
el borracho
muchos gallos muchos perros
todos los perros todos los gallos
el borracho
menos perros ni un gallo
dos gotas
tres gotas
varias gotas
muchas gotas
todas las gotas
dos manos
una espalda
unos hombros
un cuello
dos senos
un ombligo
un vientre
un monte
dos manos cuatro manos
dos labios cuatro labios
cuatro piernas
un vientre
un monte
una vagina
menos lluvia
menos menos lluvia
nada de lluvia
fin del inventario

Maya hot chocolate

A site called It’s Crazy Delicious has posted a recipe for what they call “Mayan Hot Chocolate.” Well, why not? I’m not exactly what’s Maya about it — the chile pepper, I guess — but hot chocolate could be good with cool weather approaching.

By the way, I’m still waiting to see a copy of the first UK edition of our translation of Laura Esquivel’s breakthrough book, which the editors there decided to call Like Water for Hot Chocolate, until they saw the light.

The full recipe can be found here. Following is a list of ingredients:

2 cups boiling water
1 chile pepper, cut in half, seeds removed (with gloves)
5 cups light cream or whole or nonfat milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 to 2 cinnamon sticks
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate or
3 tablets Mexican chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 tablespoons sugar or honey, or to taste
l tablespoon almonds or hazelnuts, ground extra fine
Whipped cream

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